Liven up Your Stories With a Good Helping of Conflict
Most types of story, whether short stories or novels, absolutely need that vital ingredient: the conflict. Preferably more than one. You may well have your characters all fleshed out and ready to go, but don't give them an easy ride! Bring some angst into their lives, your readers will love it!
Conflict is not necessarily physical violence or fast action, although it certainly can be this. James Bond and Indiana Jones offer this in buckets. But the writers often bring in other kinds of conflict which may be a little more cerebral.
Conflict can be conflict of purpose, conflict of ideologies, conflict in social standing and, of course, the inner conflict where the character is torn between two courses of action which they have to wrestle with and decide upon.
The most significant conflict is often placed towards the beginning of the story. This immediately captures your reader's attention as he avidly follows the hero working through the problem until he emerges into the light at the end of the dark and desperate tunnel.
If you are writing a novel there should be a series of problems or conflicts that the hero or heroine has to work through, thus keeping the reader on the edge of his seat eager to know how they are going to extricate themselves. For a short story you may want to limit the amount of conflict situations you introduce or you may bring your readers out in a sweat as they desperately struggle to understand what on earth is going on. In almost every case, for a short story less is more.
Use conflict to show what kind of people your story is populated with. You can explore the inner depths, strengths and weaknesses they have and show how they react in various ways to the problems. In fact you can produce a conflict out of the attitude or flaws of one of your characters and then describe how he and your other characters deal with that.
It is true that most conflict situations involve differences between people, but it can be used in other ways. Perhaps your heroine is stranded in some deserted area which she has to find her way out of, or maybe your hero is adrift in a dinghy surrounded by sharks. How do they battle against all the odds and win through?
Don't be afraid to confront your characters with conflict after conflict. This will bring out the mettle in them and develop their character. But have a heart. Give the poor things a little respite between each bout of problems so that both they and the reader can catch their breath before tackling the next one.